After 30 months, EU legislators agree to sell out users and creators to big platforms and big content.

Caïn venant de tuer son frère Abel, by Henry Vidal
European users and creators deserve better
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After yesterday’s agreement between the European Parliament, the Council and the European Commission on a compromise text, the EU copyright reform process has entered into its final phase. The good news is that after yesterday’s compromise the text cannot get any worse: it will either be adopted or it will be rejected. The bad news is that the text that was agreed on yesterday is **the worst version that we have seen yet**. After three days of negotiations, the negotiators have agreed on a text that would benefit big corporate rightsholders, Google and other dominant platforms at the expense of users, creators and the rest of the European internet economy.

To understand what has happened during the negotiations, it is illustrative to look at the differences between the final compromise and the text that had been agreed among the EU member states last week (which was the result of horse trading between the French and German governments).

A win for dominant platforms…

Yesterday’s compromise text is largely in line with the French-German deal. This includes a terrible version of Article 13 that will severely limit users ability to express themselves online. It will also further consolidate the power of dominant platforms, as smaller platforms will struggle with implementing expensive filtering technology and supporting the increased costs for dealing with increased liability.

It also introduces a EU-wide neighbouring right for press publishers that will have very similar effects. It benefits dominant platforms who can afford compliance while creating additional costs and risks for smaller players. As a result, users will likely end up with less access to information and the diversity of information available online will likely suffer. Under these conditions it remains to be seen if rightsholders will indeed manage to extract more value from the large intermediaries.    

…at the expense of users and creators

As if this would not be bad enough, the negotiators have introduced last minute changes to the text that further weaken provisions that were intended to protect the rights of users and individual creators. The French/German deal did not (at least not clearly) include a UGC exception for users of every online platform, but it used language that at least applied to  user-generated content uploaded to the platforms covered by Article 13. The final compromise has adopted questionable language that may or may not  provide a meaningful protection for users of platforms covered by Article 13, depending on whether Member States are obliged to fully implement the existing quotation and parody exceptions provided in the InfoSoc Directive, and make them applicable to user-generated content, which is not evident from the text. Continue reading

Final countdown on Article 13: here is how bad it really is

Article 13 flowchart (detail)
Article 13: death by filters
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Today will see the third of the “final” trilogue meetings this week. Soon we will either have a final text of the copyright directive (and we are assuming it will be either bad or very bad), or it’ll be dead in the water. At this moment the fate of the directive largely hinges on the ability of the negotiations to find a compromise on Article 13. The negotiations this week rely on the mandate obtained by the Romanian presidency last Friday. This text, based on a compromise hashed out between France and Germany, has been widely characterized as the worst version of Article 13 yet.

While negotiators have been working on finding a final compromise this week, we have analysed the current text proposed by the presidency and created a flowchart of what’s in play. In its current version Article 13 now has nine operative provisions — now exceeding the number of articles the 2001 InfoSoc directive required to describe both the rights granted under copyright and the exceptions and limitations to those rights!

Article 13 flowchart (full) Continue reading

Time to stop hijacking copyright to bolster the economic interests of specific sectors

A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus
Support for Article 13 is disintegrating
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Ahead of today’s discussion of a new copyright mandate in the Council, which would pave the way for a final trilogue at the beginning next week, the situation is becoming increasingly messy. Over the last 24 hours various groups of rightsholders ( Europe’s biggest entertainment company , a number of smaller associations from the Audiovisual sector and an unprecedented coalition of big AV holders and half of the music industry ) have come out against the proposed directive as a whole and Article 13 in particular. With the defection of major music industry organisations from the pro-article 13 movement, the once-united front of rightsholders in favour of Article 13 seems to have completely disintegrated.  This makes it clear that the EU copyright reform process has been hijacked by the legacy entertainment industry in an ill-conceived attempt to re-establish their control over the distribution of cultural goods. Under these conditions it starts looking increasingly unlikely that the copyright directive will be adopted before the EU elections later this year.

In part these last minute statements are tactical interventions intended to maximise pressure on the negotiators to adopt rightsholders friendly positions, but they also point to a much more fundamental problem: Copyright is simply not suitable as a tool to support the specific business models of one part of the creative sector without causing massive problems in other sectors. In an environment where pretty much every online transaction somehow triggers copyright, messing with the contours of copyright (especially when it comes to liability for infringement) will have lots of unintended consequences that manifest themselves as collateral damage in other sectors of the digital economy. Continue reading

Article 13: the house is on fire!

Brand in de lijnbanen op de schans aan de Smallepadsgracht
Lawmakers struggle to contain Article 13
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Last week, the German Council delegation shared a “non-paper” with proposals to mitigate the negative effects of article 13, which screamed “Houston, we have a problem”. On Monday the Romanian Council Presidency shared a working paper on article 13 that makes similar attempts to reduce the negative impact of article 13. And yesterday the representatives of the audiovisual and publishing sectors called for the suspension of the negotiations on article 13. These moves show that (1) upload filters are gaining opponents (or losing supporters) at a fast pace and (2) lawmakers are starting to envision the social and political consequences of this ill-conceived law proposal.

The Romanian proposal attempts to save the sharing culture, but fails spectacularly

Ahead of the Council Copyright Attachés meeting that took place yesterday, the Romanian Council Presidency proposed a possible compromise solution on article 13 that 1) exempts platforms from liability in certain situations (e.g. if they made best efforts to obtain an authorization from the rightsholders) and 2) introduces a mandatory EU-wide user-generated content exception to copyright, which allows users to upload and make available content generated by themselves, but not by others. The Romanian compromise further suggests to continue to discuss if online platforms that are microenterprises and small-sized enterprises shall be exempted or not from the obligations imposed by article 13.

The fact that the compromise solution presented by the Romanian Presidency contains the introduction of a UGC exception shows the intention to make a positive contribution to the negotiations. However, the drafting is far from bringing a meaningful solution for users. To start, the proposed exception only allows the use of parts of works, making it impossible for users to share user-generated content containing an entire artwork (e.g. a meme using a painting in its entirety) or an entire short work (e.g. a meme using a poem in its entirety). Then, it only allows users to share content generated by themselves, and not by others! What is the point of sharing a meme on an online platform, if other users cannot interact with it, by sharing it too? Continue reading

Copyright reform still stalled, but there is some good news for the Public Domain

Wijsheid blijft langer dan schoonheid
some light in the shadows of the big controversy
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After last weeks inconclusive “final” trilogue, the discussions about the EU copyright reform package are paused for their third (!!) winter break. When they resume in January under the Romanian EU presidency the negotiators will be under a lot of pressure to find a politically viable compromise on Articles 13 and 11 and a few other controversial parts of the proposal. In the shadow of these more controversial elements of the proposal the negotiators have managed to provisionally agree on a large number of other issues and among these there are a number of positive developments.

From our perspective the most positive development is the fact that based on an amendment proposed by the European Parliament, the negotiators have provisionally agreed to include a Public Domain clause in Article 5 of the Directive. This clause intended to ensure that reproductions of works in the public domain can no longer be protected by copyright or neighbouring rights (as it is currently the case in a number of EU member states such as Germany and Spain). This is not only welcome because it would solve a real problem or because it would turn one of the recommendations of our Public Domain Manifesto into law, but also because it will be the first ever mention of Public Domain in EU copyright framework! Continue reading

A Waivable Press Publishers Right Would Be Less of a Disaster

Man telt munten en een jongen brengt hem geldzakken
Or here’s an idea: just delete it!
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For the entire duration of the current EU copyright reform we have advocated that the press publishers right be deleted. Publishers already benefit greatly from the copyrights they have in their content, and don’t need an additional exclusive right to protect or exploit those rights. As is clear from past experiments with the right in Germany and Spain, an additional right for press publishers will not support quality journalism, increase the diversity of media content, or grow the digital single market. Instead, it will negatively affect access to information and the ability for publishers to share using the platforms, technologies, and terms beneficial to them. The existing problem can be addressed by observing a legal presumption that press publishers are entitled to enforce the rights over the works or other subject matter that are licensed to them.

But here we are now years later in the thick of the trilogue negotiations, and the EU legislator is finally trying to figure out what to do about Article 11. Similar to Article 13 and content filter, we expect that the final compromise text of the directive will include some version of the press publishers right.

The waivable press publishers right

Our long-held view remains: Article 11 should be removed from the copyright directive. The provision is patently harmful to journalism, access to information, and the digital single market. The option to make the press publishers right waivable is simply one way to slightly improve the press publishers right if deletion is impossible. If the negotiators can’t be convinced by the mountains of research, empirical evidence observed in prior trials, and near universal public opposition to this unnecessary right, then the legislator must do everything it can to mitigate the negative effects that would be faced by news publishers and news seekers in the EU. Continue reading

To block or not to block? Commission’s vague “non-paper” does not meet our minimal standard

Man met een brief
Commission non-paper would support filtering
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This week, Politico.eu has shared a “non-paper” prepared by the European Commission on article 13, ahead of the next trilogue on 13 December. The Commission has been tasked during the recent trilogue meeting with proposing a compromise solution on the issue of “mitigation of liability in the absence of a license”, in face of diverging views between the European Parliament and the Council.

In general, any direction on this piece of regulation seems to be lost, with actors participating in the trialogue willing to treat the article like a puzzle, in which puzzles can be rearranged in any way possible – beyond the scope of any previously negotiated and legitimized mandate. The process once again proves to be obscure and lacking with regard to basic rules of participatory policymaking.

The Commission was given several guidelines. These include an assumption that platforms do communicate to the public and need to obtain licenses or that automatic blocking should be “avoided as much as possible”, but is also not forbidden.

Earlier this week, we published four principles, based on which we plan to evaluate the proposed language for article 13. We believe that any version of Article 13 that does not take these four principles into account will need to be rejected in the final vote taken by the European Parliament.

We decided to check the Commission’s proposal, included in the non-paper against our principles. This has been made difficult by the fact that what is proposed in the non-paper is in many ways vague. Once it becomes more substantial, we will be able to make a definitive judgement. But even now, lack of details on some issues – such as protection of content fitting copyright exceptions from overfiltering – is telling. Continue reading

Article 13: Four principles for minimising harm to users, creators and the internet

Vrouw die een stier tracht te bedwingen
4 principles to save article 13 from killing the net
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Later today the negotiators of the Commission, the European Parliament and the Council will meet for the 4th trilogue meeting. After having dealt with less controversial parts of the proposal during the three preceding meetings, tonight, will finally see a discussion about Article 13 of the proposed DSM directive.

Given that all three legislators bring similar versions of article 13 to the table, we can expect that a final compromise text will include some version of the article 13 upload filters. There is still a good chance that the negotiations will be inconclusive or that the eventual outcome of the trilogue negotiations will not be approved by either the Member States or the Parliament (which would mean that the directive will fail and there will be no upload filtering requirement for the foreseeable future). But in the context of the ongoing trilogue, the deletion of article 13 (which has been our position so far) is not an option anymore.

This raises the question of how the damage that article 13 will do to the internet ecosystem and freedom of expression can best be contained. Before we do so let’s take a quick look at the positions that are on the table:

EP position: general blocking of all unlicensed content

The provision adopted by the European parliament can only be described as a total disaster. As the result of a misguided attempt to remove the mention of “measures” from the text of the article the European Parliament adopted a version of article 13 that makes platforms liable for copyright infringements for every single work uploaded by their users. This would include any photo, drawing or text uploaded by a user, regardless if these are old works, works that have been created for the express purpose of being shared widely, or the latest blockbuster movie. As a result of making platforms liable for all works uploaded by their users, they are practically forced to install filters that will block everything that has not been licensed to them. In other words, the EP version of article 13 would turn open platforms into platforms that distribute content licensed by the entertainment industry and nothing else. Continue reading

Reminder: Article 13 will help dominant platforms, not hurt them

A dragon devouring the companions of Cadmus
Regulatory burden will hurt smaller platforms
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Two weeks ahead of the second trilogue meeting on the 26th of November where the most controversial parts of the Copyright Directive will be discussed for the first time, various stakeholders are starting to position themselves for the final stages of the reform process. Yesterday Politico.eu leaked the compromise suggestions prepared by the Austrian Presidency for articles 11 and 13. Unsurprisingly the suggested texts maintain the general approach that was cemented by both the Council and the Parliament over the summer (see analysis by MEP Julia Reda here). By now it is clear that regardless of how much we argue that Article 13 should be deleted and that Article 11 should be limited to a presumption of representations neither of these two things will happen.

Limiting the damage by clearly identifying the services targeted

Under these conditions it seems that the most promising approach to minimize the harm that will be caused by these articles will be to limit what type of services they apply to.

Article 11 should be modified in such a way that it only applies to search engines and news aggregators. These are the type of services that press publishers are claiming to cause them harm (which we continue to doubt). This would prevent a lot of legal uncertainty (and thus damage) for everyone else on the internet.

The same approach makes sense for article 13. The music industry and other rightsholders have consistently argued that they are harmed by large online platforms that allow users to share audiovisual (AV) works. Given that the stated objective of the proponents of article 13 is to create a better bargaining position for rightsholders vis a vis YouTube, Facebook, Google and other commercial platforms, it seems reasonable to limit the types of services that would need to comply with article 13 to for-profit audio visual platforms that compete with licensed services only. Such a measure would prevent a lot of legal uncertainty for platforms that do not deal with AV works or do not operate on a for profit basis. Continue reading